Childhood - a moment in time when anything really is possible. As children, we believe fiercely that unicorns exist, we tiptoe to the bottom of the garden to catch a glimpse of the fairies smiling back at us and we KNOW that Santa Claus is real. If we run fast enough and flap our arms - we truly believe that we will soar into the sky. Our imaginations have no limit and we most definitely know, if we search hard enough, that one day we really will find the end of that rainbow.
Children are full of magic. It’s hard as grown ups to remember how carefree and innocent a time it actually is. And it’s fleeting. We blink - and suddenly we are bigger. But just because we grow up - doesn’t mean we should ever stop playing.
‘Play’ is almost always associated with children - it’s how they learn best. It builds language, it builds connections, it provides a safe space to make sense of the world. Play is a moment when we can ‘just be’ and it's a moment where we develop and grow.
While all this is true - that doesn’t mean that play shouldn’t continue into adulthood. In fact, it is just as vital as we age that we still experience all that freedom and joy.
As adults, we no longer need play to develop in the way children do - but consider how many forms of play do ‘fill your cup’:
- Imaginative play: Our minds and imaginations need exercising, just like our bodies - this type of play includes artistic play, escaping daily life through storytelling, reading, the theatre or drama groups.
- Physical play: Setting our bodies free with exercise classes, walking, running, swimming or active holidays like skiing.
- Object play: This is about constructing and building - making models, building miniature railways or creating a new feature in your garden.
- Ritual play: Games with set rules or puzzles - Sudoku, chess, board games and card games are all examples
- Rough or ‘risky’ play: Intensely physical play such as competitive sports, tough mudder races and obstacle courses.
Not only do all these types of play keep our brains stimulated and help our balance and coordination (as well as keeping us physically healthy) but they also connect us socially as adults - encouraging positive interactions, and for many - combating loneliness. It can bring a whole host of benefits too, such as relieving stress, maintaining mental wellbeing and encouraging creativity. We can connect with others and enhance our own happiness too.
But why stop there? Why not consider the best of both worlds and combine the magic of adult and children’s play? Mixed age play doesn’t just have to mean two siblings - it could mean a grandparent becoming a fearsome dragon, or dad stepping into the role of a ballerina. It could mean going on adventures and stepping into lands you’ve only ever dreamt of before breakfast. It’s the best invitation you’ll ever receive…
And as for the question, ‘How do I play with my child?’ Well, the answer is wonderfully simple…
What does that mean?
- Follow their curious minds - let them lead (this will build their independent thinking skills as well as their confidence)
- Give them your full attention - Be excited to be there. (This will reinforce the message that they are your priority - cementing those special bonds).
- Communicate your joy - Let them know you’re listening - reflect back on what they say and show you’re actively absorbing what they say. (Even if it’s not your favourite activity - give it a chance. Immerse yourself in the moment and be positive).
- Make the time spent playing ‘quality time’ - (Invest yourself in the play, use positive language and praise their involvement).
- Get down to their level and ‘be there’ - You are the best resource you can provide for your child to ‘play with’ and if they feel visible and heard, this will do so much to strengthen their connection to you.
- Make ‘simple play’ fun - Empty boxes can become pirate ships and kitchen roll tubes can be telescopes. Jump over those cracks in the pavement, sing the menu at breakfast time and ‘freeze’ whenever they ask you to!
- Remember play is a process - It doesn’t have to ‘look’ a certain way, there’s no ‘right’ outcome - important skills are being practised in every situation.
Play truly is a magical force. It frees us from where we are and it takes us to wherever we want to be. Play equalises us. It grounds us. It reminds us that the simplest things can spark the greatest joy. We just need to keep finding that magic when we’re bigger - and it really is easy - just invite yourself in.